BRITAIN AND CANADA-BROTHERS IN ARMS
AN ADDRESS BY THE HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE BIRKETT
The President, John C. M. MacBeth, Esq., B.A., K.C.
Monday, June 1, 1942
MR. JOAN C. M. MACBETH: Gentlemen of The Empire Club and Guests
This is the first meeting of the Club's new year and a very auspicious beginning it is.
We are particularly happy to have with us such a large number of distinguished representatives of Church and State, of Bench and Bar, of Education and Industry, a loyal citizenry who have come together to do honour to another loyal and distinguished citizen of Empire.
This loyal and distinguished citizen, the guest speaker, needs no introduction to this Club. He is a more regular attendant at our meetings than many of our regular members. He addressed us as recently as last September.
For many years prior to the outbreak of war, Mr. William Norman Birkett was an eminent lawyer, one of His Majesty's Counsel, practicing in the Midland Circuit. When war was declared his abilities were requisitioned by the Government and he became Chairman of the Home Office Advisory Committee dealing with interned aliens. These services were recognized in the early part of 1941 by a gracious Sovereign who conferred upon him the title of Knight Bachelor.
In the autumn of 1941 he was elevated from Bar to Bench, and today he comes to us as The Honourable Sir Norman Birkett, Justice of The King's Bench Division of The High Court. His legal ability has thus been recognized but one should not forget that he has been a Member of Parliament in the Liberal interest and also, that, on the authority of his Toronto host, Mr. D. L. McCarthy, he had, at birth, been kissed on both forehead and lips by the attendant fairies.
The Honourable Sir Norman Birkett. (Applause.)
THE HONOURABLE SIR NORMAN BIRKETT: After that very kindly introduction by the President, I feel that my first duty is to try to express to you the sense of honour and privilege I experienced in being allowed to come to The Empire Club for the second time. I have made so many speeches recently in Toronto and elsewhere, that I am a little fearful about embarking upon another, particularly in the presence of so many distinguished representatives of every phase of Canadian life.
But, I have found one element universal in all the audiences I have been privileged to see, and that was a kindliness of welcome, a warmth of friendly feeling which overlooks all shortcomings and makes one instantly at home. So you will allow me in my opening words to express to you from the heart, the sense of pride and pleasure it is to be here once more, although, Sir, I shall not detain you at any great length.
When I was in the United States of America only a few days ago there were two incidents which I think should be taken to heart by every public speaker. Certainly I have laid them on my heart. The first was when a distinguished American lawyer was addressing a very great audience. He told of how his luggage was attended to by a Southern Negro who had a cut upon his face which ran from the ear to the mouth, and when this distinguished American lawyer asked the Negro whether the cut was done with a razor or with a knife, the answer came, "With a knife".
Said the American lawyer, "How came you to get a cut upon your face like that with a knife?" And the Southern Negro said with a wonderful smile radiating his face, "Well, sir, maybe I was talking when I should have been listening".
Mr. President, being the receptive man I am, those words went home. They were reinforced a day or two later, also in the United States, when I was speaking at a meeting connected with Harvard University.
A very distinguished man attached to this University told how a man had once come there to that meeting and he addressed them upon the word "Harvard", and he took the letters of the word: H for honour; A for ambition; R for revolution; V for victory; and so on. The speech was interminable and as the audience dispersed one man said to another, "Well, thank God it wasn't the Massachusetts Institute of Technology".
Well, Mr. President, with these admonitions most firmly in my mind and heart, you may be quite sure that I shall not exceed the ordinary bounds in a speech of this kind. But I value this opportunity more than I can say to speak to you on certain things connected with Britain and with Canada which together we have so much at heart.
I cannot think of anything more appropriate with which to begin than to refer to that great feat which is in all our minds today and which has sent, I think, a great thrill throughout the world, that a thousand bombers were over Cologne last night. And it gave me a peculiar pride and a peculiar pleasure to read in the dispatches from London this morning that in that gallant and valiant band there were over a thousand Canadians; and I had a particular thrill, a particular pride, to see the photo, graphs, and to see the names and to read the interviews with some of those Canadians who have honoured me by their presence in my own home in England. I have been to their stations, I have seen the bombers go out in the darkness, and therefore you can imagine that at this distance from my own home it was with a very special pride that I reflected upon that great feat of organization and that great display of valour. And, Mr. President, I will make bold to say that in the days to come the historian of the future may very well record that that notable achievement marked another distinct turning point in the history of this war and from that moment onward the doom of Hitler and all who hate the light was writ.
I dare say, Mr. President, that you are getting tired of hearing about the bearing of the British people in these days. Well, all I would like to say about it is this. It is rather a remarkable phenomenon in which we ought to take pride. After all, I have some conception of what a thousand bombers over Cologne must have meant. We have known in our own British cities five hundred German bombers at one and the same time, and the ordinary people of Britain who are utterly unaccustomed to any such form of warfare, who saw their homes, their houses, their belongings destroyed in a moment-death and disaster were all about the place-such was their spirit that they never wavered under any calamity, because their belief was then, as in every department of life, that we stand fast now for all the things which alone can make our life, and the lives of those who are to come after us, worth living.
And, Mr. President, you may ask where has all this money gone which has been raised by such sacrifice in Britain? What about the army? Well, again the Axis propagandists are busy. They say Britain keeps a big army at home behind its bayonets. It does-it does because, as I say, the Island base must be kept inviolate. If that stands, all stands, if that falls, all falls. But also remember, won't you, two million of the soldiers in Britain are the Home Guard. Some of them are veterans of the last war, but every man is equipped, pledged and determined to defend every inch of that soil.
There are those men who are part-time soldiersmen who through the daytime are in the shops, the offices, the factories, the fields, but they are trained and equipped for that special task of defence. Many of them, to their very great honour, have volunteered for the Commando Raids, about which I shall say a word in a moment. And behind those two million of Home Guards, there are trained soldiers, including the finest flower of the Canadian Regiments, given, as I have always said, the place of honour in defending the central base, the vital fortress.
But, at the same time, during the last two and a half years the armies of Britain and the Commonwealth have fought eleven campaigns in the different parts of the world, where great convoys have gone by day and night, protected by the armies of the British and Canadian Navies. Why? To supply and enforce the army in the Middle East. During one space of twelve months, three hundred ships were continuously employed, and although the record of the army in those theatres of war has been a varied one, wherever the British Army has been able to meet the enemy upon anything like equal terms, it has not failed to live up to its great tradition. (Applause.)
I need not add more. I do not need in an audience of this kind, at any rate, to say any more than that the Axis propagandists may perhaps waste their breath and waste their time.
I want to say a word about the Commando Raids. Up until quite recently they were composed almost entirely from the volunteers in the United Kingdom. I am glad to think now they have been reinforced by Canadians and by those from all parts of the United Empire. The story of the Commandos when all secrets are revealed will reveal a record of gallantry, devotion, and courage, the like of which the world has never seen. We naturally know little. Many of the raids are never mentioned. Some are.
There was the Commando raid in Libya, 40 miles behind the German lines, to capture General Rommel Which nearly succeeded. There, 40 miles behind the lines, those men with their lives in their hands entered the very building where Rommel was supposed to be, and where he usually was. Commander Keyes was in command. They entered the building, the guards were quietly killed. The door of the room where Rommel sat was open, but to their surprise there were only two German officers-not Rommel. They were destroyed, also the guards on the stairs. They searched every room and finally when the hue and cry was made, the soldiers fought their way out. They split in bands of two, and one pair, the commanding officer and his sergeant, for forty-one days, lived and maintained themselves in that hostile country and finally got safely back to the British lines.
The effect upon the Germans in Norway can never be measured. I can tell you of a Commando raid made at a certain place where the German soldiers were free wheeling down the hill upon bicycles to a certain defence conrete post and as they rounded the bend, fearing nothing, they were all destroyed by the Commandos who had landed secretly. Imagine the effect of that upon the German everywhere. Then you read about the raid on St. Nazaire. When the destroyer Campbelltown goes in and rams the bay and the Commandos go ashore, knowing the odds are they will never see England again -what courage, what nobility! It is all part of the daily routine of the British Army, reinforced, I am glad now to think, by our Allies all over the world.
So, members of the Empire Club, I mention that that you too may take pride not only in those high achievements but that you may feel that your great confidence since September, 1939, was amply justified.
Now, Mr. President, let me say just one word with regard to the Air Force. The Battle of Britain will go down in history of course as one of the turning points of this war, when our Island was saved from invasion. It was difficult to realize it at the time. One read the reports. I shall never forget reading on the Sunday night about nearly three hundred Germans that had been brought down that Sunday, but we now know that the Battle of Britain really saved Britain from invasion. It is equally true that the Battle of Britain saved Freedom for all the World. (Applause.)
I could give you figures, if figures you needed, of the millions of miles flown by the aircraft of the Coastal Command over all seas, searching out the enemy, protecting our ships, and of the work of the Fighter and Bomber Command. The raid over Cologne indicates as nothing else could our growing strength in the air and of the devotion to the task of building the aircraft, and it is good at this distance of time to look back upon those days when we were almost helpless, in the days of the might of the German Airforce. We were then promised that the Germans would receive ton for ton, blow for blow. The Prime Minister said, with his happy gift, "If they can play rough, so can we". So today it is the German cities,-Lubeck, Rostock, Cologne, Kiel, Hamburg, Bremen-it is the German cities that are suffering those terrible visitations, and when the full weight of the United States of America comes into play, as it will, and soon, and the British and Canadian bombers are reinforced by the hosts of the United States, there must come a day when that mighty force which they have brought upon themselves, when that mighty force makes itself felt in the most unmistakable manner.
Those great battles-the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Atlantic-have been of untold significance. Too often it is not grasped that Britain must import from thirty to forty million tons of goods every year to keep herself alive-food and the raw material for her industries, and most of it has to be brought by sea, and that great life-line has got to be kept open. The Royal Canadian Navy and the Navy of the United States of America and the British Navy, the Norwegian Navy, the Navies of our Allies-they are all combined in a task which when the secrets are made known, will stagger the majority of the world. Of men torpedoed thrice, adrift in a waste of water, but there was never a British ship that failed to put to sea for one of her crew, and the task of convoying your gallant soldiers to Britain is no mean undertaking. The Battle of the Atlantic goes on unceasingly. The U-boats, the surface craft, the long-range bombers, all have to be dealt with, and all the time, as I say, Britain is the base, with one consuming desire-to justify the great confidence placed in her, not only by the Commonwealth of Nations, not only by our great Allies, but by all the peoples of the world.
In Norway, as I now speak, freedom is not dead. The day will come when those great forces about which I have been speaking will be released again in Norway, and the other countries which f or the moment are under enemy domination, and Freedom, that liberty of thought, that liberty of action, will one day render the world the place we intend it to be
Now, just one word, Mr. President, with regard to the Home Front. In all the Services, in every department, there is a single-minded desire to search out the enemy and bring the day of victory near. On the Home Front and in the homes of the people the same spirit is manifest. I would not have you think that in Britain, despite all the regulations and the restrictions, the rationing of food and clothing, travel and light and heating, everything of which you can think-I would not have you believe for a moment that anybody suffers want or hardship. There are many things that we thought were necessities that we have found were not necessities at all, and the most striking thing is that the health of the people has never been better. I don't want to disparage the eating of food. It would be a difficult thing to do to Canada and the United States, but the fact remains that it would appear that a system of rationing has been good for us. Somebody told me the other day that the rationing of meat in England worked out at twenty cents per person a week. I don't quite know what you get for twenty cents; but none of these things really do more than disturb the surface of life.
People queue up and they tell about one lady who was walking down the street who saw a queue and she said, "What is that queue for?". Another lady said, "Oh that is for the 'Tales of Hoffman'." She said, "Oh, I had better join it, because my husband will eat anything."
Mr. President, with humour and a smile the little things and the big things have been confronted so that the great end may be achieved.
We have more than a million men in munitions. More than we had in 1918. We have millions of women in the Services, in the Civil Defences, in factories and, in a word, everybody is in some form of national service. Therefore, to me, it is the greatest delight in the world to come to Canada and find, as I do find, the essential spirit in Canada as it is in Britain.
I heard somebody say after my broadcast last night, "Well, the only fault I could find was I think you praised Canada a little too much". Well, it is a good fault-if it is a fault. I can only speak from the heart and tell you what I have seen. I have seen something of your war production. I see, almost every day of my life on the other side, at close quarters, Canadian soldiers, Canadian airmen, and it may very well be that I get a little biassed, but I can only say that Canada stands high in the estimation of Britain, not merely for what she has done and what she is doing, but for what she is and the spirit of Canada manifested, as it has been, during our dark days, when she came, so freely and so readily with help of the most material kind.
I can only say that I should be lacking in my duty if I did not express to you, not only the great admiration of the British people but their warm and their fervent thanks.
Perhaps, Sir, you would allow me to end up on this note. I have been for some six weeks in the United States of America. I am to stay for a few brief days in this great Dominion, and day by day I am more and more impressed by the great contribution which the English-speaking communities can make to the future of the world. You know we have one task before us now and it must be carried through to the exclusion of all else-Victory, which in my judgment is absolutely sure.
But do not let us fall into the error of imagining that when that day comes, as it will come, when the duty laid upon us, the high and solemn duty is discharged, as it will be discharged, do not let us make the mistake of believing that at that moment we sail into untroubled waters. The real task will then arise. The real duties will then begin, for, if we mean what we say, we are determined this time that out of all this trouble and turmoil and horror, it is not beyond the wit of man to devise a world in which man can live where no more can these things be.
In Britain certainly there is one clear and determined purpose, that whatever comes out of this war there must come some organization, some system which will make it impossible for any one nation to unloose the horror upon the world which we have seen, and to the building of that great structure, Canada, the United States and Britain can make a notable contribution.
Members of the Empire Club, we may not live to see it. We can at least take part in the laying of the foundation of that great structure in which there can be preserved all the nobilities, the chivalries, the graces, the things which lend life value. We can at least take part in the laying of the foundation, and I believe if we stand together, as we will, with the co-operation of our Allies, and of free men everywhere, on the foundation that we lay, most assuredly, there will one day rise the structure whose towers and pinnacles will rise right up into the sunlight.
Let me end by again acknowledging the pride and the honour it is to come here, the stimulus, the sustenance it is to be with those with whom one feels an instinctive kinship, and I wish you in all your endeavour now and in the future Godspeed. (Applause.)
Mr. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: Gentlemen, you will wish me to thank The Honourable Sir Norman for this magnificent and informative and inspiring address, and this I very heartily do, Sir.
The Solicitors' Journal, in its issue of November, 1941, immediately after the elevation of Sir Norman to the Bench, had this to say
"The eloquence, however, which has charmed juries and swayed judges will not be entirely lost to the public 'but will be secured both as an ornament and an instrument of justice."
I am sure that we agree with that sentiment this afternoon. We are also grateful to Sir Norman's Toronto host, Mr. D. L. McCarthy, for making this meeting so interesting for us, by making it possible that Sir Norman should come and address us after this manner. Thank you, Mr. McCarthy. (Applause.)
Gentlemen, the meeting is adjourned.